Wednesday, February 4, 2009

DEAD IRONS: JIM KUHORIC UNLEASHED

For some years now, creators who have known James Anthony Kuhoric have been waiting for his breakout comic book work, something that had his distinctive stamp all over it.

When he scripted Army of Darkness, he did so with a capacity to capture Ash’s voice in such a way that it was nearly impossible not to hear Bruce Campbell saying the lines. It’s been observed by fans that clearly he “gets” the character, and more than one of his friends suggested that this was the comic Kuhoric was born to write.

When he crossed Army of Darkness with two other major horror franchises in Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, he pulled of their nearly impossible task of remaining essentially true to each of the properties while telling a story that was more than just ramming the creations together for a slugfest. Working from a plot by Jeff Katz, Kuhoric made the crossover work and was rewarded with multiple printings of the first four issues of the six-issue series.

But in as much as he probably was born to write Army of Darkness and handle the difficulties of Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, they weren’t ever going to be his. He might be the best writer the characters ever had, but these properties didn’t start with him.

Now, though, readers finally get to see what he does with characters he’s created. Dead Irons #1 debuted in comic shops today.

Teamed with artist Jason Shawn Alexander (BPRD) and art director–cover artist Jae Lee (The Dark Tower), Kuhoric tells the tale of three bounty hunter siblings who are leaving a trail of death and destruction across the old west. Monsters who only travel by moonlight, they are in turn tracked by their brother, Silas Irons, perhaps their only hope of redemption.

As the tag line goes, it’s 99 innocent souls, six undead monsters, and one shot to save the world.

Nick Barrucci, Dynamite Entertainment’s President, said that Kuhoric’s premise grabbed him from the beginning, but it was first and foremost his passion that made him give the project a serious look.

“I've yet to see Jim take on a job that was strictly for the money. Anything he's worked on, he's worked on because he has a passion for it,” Barrucci said. “He has a love for the material. He wants to bring it his all and you'll see it in the pages of this book in particular.”

He said the story in its published form is very similar to the concept with which Kuhoric arrived.

“The story is very close to Jim's original pitch. There was some feedback from me, Jae, and [Associate Editor] Joe Rybandt, but overall we remained very close to what Jim originally pitched,” he said. “It's a very solid story and I think the input we gave helped flesh it out further and expand on the grand vision Jim had.”

“When we first started this project, I spent some time with Jim over the phone exploring some new ideas. I don't know how much of that made it to the final draft. I'm such a fan of this book, I'm intentionally avoiding reading the scripts until the artwork is done,” Jae Lee said. “When you work on a book, you see the project at various stages and by the time you see the final result, the magic and mystery is gone because you're reading it for the tenth time. I want to get the full reading experience and savor every moment of it.”

When the project began long months ago, Lee had just been announced as the artist for Marvel Comics’ high profile comic book debut of Steven King’s The Dark Tower, a work that garnered an impressive amount of mainstream media coverage and backing from the company that included a full page ad in The New York Times. When undertaking such a celebrated venture for one of the big two publishers, what made Dead Irons worth waiting for?

“I just fell in love with Jim's concept. Jim and the guys at Dynamite were patient allowing me time to find time to work on the character designs and covers,” Lee said. “But the ironic thing is, if this project had come out as intended several years ago, Jason Alexander would not have been available to draw it. We know because we asked him years back and he turned us down. A creative team can make or break a book and serendipity smiled on us this time around.”

Lee said that the character designs for Dead Irons came to him rather easily.

“Jim had created such strong individual personalities I felt as if I knew them already. Also, it's a genre I love so it was fun as hell to do without the usual struggle,” he said.

Barrucci said the fit between Kuhoric’s story and Lee’s character concepts and designs was practically seamless and that made the long wait until Lee’s schedule lightened seem less daunting.

“Jae is one of the most talented creators in comics. I'm not just saying this because he's a close friend but because I really believe it. When he read Jim's script he could see the characters in his mind's eye and the fact that he brought his own passion to the project made him more than worth the wait,” he said.

The artist bringing Kuhoric’s story and script and Lee’s character designs to the printed page is Alexander, who now – having seen his work – seems like the only choice to illustrate Dead Irons.

“The man was born to draw this book. His work has so much mood and energy. He's a highly skilled cinematographer bringing this thing to fluid life. His art has such cinematic flair, reading this comics is like watching a movie,” Lee said.

“If Jim's the writer than Jason's the director,” Barrucci agreed. “In a lot of way Jim was the writer, Jae was the casting agent and producer and Jason's the director. He makes everything flow, he makes this perfect world that much more perfect (in a really messed up way because it's a really messed up world). Jason is another person we had to wait for, but I can honestly say he's the perfect choice for this and I'm so happy he is working on this.”

It remains to be seen how the general public will react to the gothic western, but Barrucci said he’s confident of the product.

“I think it's one of the best books Dynamite will be releasing and I'm quite happy with it,” he said.

[Publisher's note: Look for one of JCV's "20 Questions With..." interviews with Jim Kuhoric in the coming weeks.]

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